Friday, September 5, 2014

game preview: Richmond

Date/Time: Saturday, September 6; 3:30


Record against the Spiders: 27-2-2

Last meeting: UVA 43, UR 19; 9/1/12, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UCLA 28, UVA 20; UR 55, Morehead St. 10

Line: none

Injury report: N/A

It's hard to find a matchup of I-A and I-AA teams that's full of storylines, but this one always seems to qualify.  A couple years ago it was all about the UVA connection on the UR coaching staff - which is still true, by the way, with Byron Thweatt and Fontel Mines represented, along with a couple former UVA assistant coaches - and now it's the quarterbacks, too.  Michael Strauss and Mike Rocco aren't the first UVA quarterbacks to end up in Richmond, but then, Bryson Spinner never played against UVA after doing so.  So there'll be quite a few Spiders who really want to take the Hoos down a peg.

-- UVA run offense vs. UR run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 17 carries, 55 yards, 3.2 ypc, 0 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 10 carries, 31 yards, 3.1 ypc, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
120 yards/game, 3.08 yards/attempt
94th of 122 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UR defense:
100 yards/game, 3.57 yards/attempt
36th of 103 (national), 5th of 12 (CAA)

The running game was only marginally effective - at best - against UCLA.  It didn't offer much hope for the O-line this year.  This week, though, a respite seems in order.  Richmond's stats against Morehead State aren't that bad, but worse than you'd maybe expect to see from a game like that.  Morehead State is one of the weaker teams in one of I-AA's weakest leagues: the Pioneer League, a conclave of teams that don't offer football scholarships at all.  Morehead State is about to take on Pikeville this week - an NAIA team that they lost to last year.  So any failure to completely dominate Morehead State in any aspect of the game is an exploitable weakness.  Richmond's defensive playmaking was almost exclusively in the defensive backfield, the one notable exception being linebacker Aaron Roane.  The D-line was of little use, so this matchup should be a pretty slanted one.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UR pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 16/23, 69.6%; 112 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs; 4.87 yards/attempt
Matt Johns: 13/22, 59.1%; 154 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 7.00 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 6 rec., 15 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 5 rec., 55 yards, 0 TDs
Doni Dowling: 5 rec., 25 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
266 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
89th of 122 (national); 11th of 14 (ACC)

UR defense:
209 yards/game, 4.35 yards/attempt
19th of 103 (national); 2nd of 12 (CAA)

Richmond looked better here, playing pretty effectively against Morehead State's passing game, but again - they didn't dominate.  The Spiders picked up no sacks and no interceptions, and Morehead's Austin Gahafer was able to complete 62% - though much like Greyson Lambert against UCLA, he was dink-dunking, which contributes some to the lack of big plays on defense for Richmond.

Mike London is about to coach in his 51st game at UVA, and in more than 30 of them, he's used two quarterbacks.  This will just increase that already insanely high percentage, although at least this time, I agree with the need to do so.  If he's smart, he'll alternate possessions rather than giving one half to one quarterback - that way, he's evaluating their play against the same defensive personnel.

Problem is, quarterback competitions being what they are, I don't expect a lot of separation.  Richmond isn't likely to be good enough to provide many decision points.  Both of them should fare well here.  What we're more likely to see is some clarification at receiver.  Somebody will have an eight-catch game, somewhere.  The UCLA game saw a lot of different players step up, and we didn't even get to see much of Keeon Johnson or any of Jamil Kamara, so the game will start with a really muddy picture at receiver; I think it'll clear up some by the end, though.

-- UR run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jacobi Green: 9 carries, 42 yards, 4.7 ypc, 0 TDs
Seth Fisher: 8 carries, 48 yards, 6.0 ypc, 0 TDs

UR offense:
235.0 yards/game, 5.22 yards/attempt
25th of 103 (national); 2nd of 12 (CAA)

UVA defense:
116.0 yards/game, 2.97 yards/attempt
45th of 122 (national); 5th of 14 (ACC)

The strictures of my own format forbid listing them all, but Richmond was able to really spread the carries around against Morehead, with the main ballcarriers being the ones listed above: Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green.  That was Richmond's two-headed attack last year, the two combining for a shade over 1,000 yards on the season.  They're both big, rumbly backs, especially Fisher, and Richmond brought out another bowling ball in the fourth quarter last week, in the form of true freshman Jeremiah Hamlin.  Hamlin ended up as the game's leading rusher, with 80 yards in just a quarter of work - though, again, it was the fourth.

Richmond's O-line is pretty good for I-AA, especially at center where Austin Gund piles up all-conference honors pretty quickly.  The line is big, as big as you'd find on the I-A level.  Still, it's a matchup of strength on strength.  What I like here is UVA's linebackers; Richmond's backs are big, but they aren't speed merchants in the least degree; Coley and Romero are physically fairly quick but mentally much quicker, and should be able to stuff the run game pretty consistently.

-- UR pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Michael Strauss: 17/23, 73.9%; 259 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 11.3 yards/attempt
Mike Rocco: 9/13, 69.2%; 117 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 9.0 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Stephen Barnette: 6 rec., 76 yards, 1 TD
Brian Brown: 5 rec., 110 yards, 0 TDs
Rashad Ponder: 4 rec., 33 yards, 0 TDs

UR offense:
408.0 yards/game, 9.95 yards/attempt
11th of 103 (national); 1st of 12 (CAA)

UVA defense:
242.0 yards/game, 7.1 yards/attempt
77th of 122 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Those numbers for the UVA defense don't seem quite fair, given the harassment laid on Brett Hundley all day long last week.  The secondary was a little disappointing, though; Tim Harris appeared to have a rough day in coverage.  Richmond could present another challenge at times.  To start off with, Michael Strauss had a terrific year for the Spiders last year.  Against Morehead he was still the undisputed starter, despite speculation that Mike Rocco would give him a challenge.  After all, Rocco did beat Strauss out once already.

I think we'll see less of Rocco than people think, though.  Strauss picked up against Morehead where he left off last year, and Rocco threw the game's lone interception.  Richmond has a really dangerous go-to weapon in Stephen Barnette, a tall and lanky receiver who averaged nearly 100 yards a game last year.  Brian Brown could be emerging as a danger spot as well; he's a sophomore who had a big game last week and nearly eclipsed his freshman-year stats in just that one game.

Obviously, keeping up the pressure has to be a bread-and-butter thing for UVA this year if the defense is to keep the Hoos in games.  It was a lot of fun last week, watching Hundley scramble for his life and never even sure which side the heat would come from.  The Richmond QBs left UVA before Jon Tenuta got here, so they haven't seen his mad-hatter blitzing in practice at all.

-- Favorability ratings

A feature that returns from last year.  Still early in the season to be nailing these down with tons of accuracy, but it doesn't stop me from trying.

UVA run offense: 8.5
UVA pass offense: 8.5
UVA run defense: 9
UVA pass defense: 7.5

Average: 8.375

-- Outlook

As justifiably skeptical as anyone might be about Mike London's abilities, there's this going for him: UVA has never had any trouble with I-AA teams under his tenure.  I figure that's got a lot to do with the high level of talent London's brought in.  At some point, superior athleticism just becomes too much.  Richmond has a passing game that's often the envy of the CAA, but they don't have a way to stop Eli Harold from screwing with it.  UVA should be able to grind out a fairly easy and somewhat anticlimactic win.

-- Predictions

-- Both Johns and Lambert throw for over 150 yards, and their final stats are not very distinguishable from each other.

-- A UVA receiver grabs at least 8 receptions.

-- Taquan Mizzell finally breaks the long gain we've been waiting to see - 50 yards or more.

-- Rocco's presence is basically a non-issue, with Strauss throwing at least 2.5 times more passes than him.

-- UVA picks up at least four more sacks.

-- Richmond's offense is held scoreless in the first half, but not the whole game.

Final score: UVA 38, UR 14

-- Rest of the ACC

Pittsburgh @ Boston College - Fri. - Is anyone else still having trouble getting used to this matchup of northern urban schools as an ACC game?

Clemson vs. South Carolina State - 12:30 - Clemson was no help whatsoever for the ACC's rep last week.  Not that they were the only ones, though.

Georgia Tech @ Tulane - 4:00 - I'm not convinced that GT is all that big a favorite here.  I mean, they should win.  But.

NC State vs. Old Dominion - 6:00 - See Georgia Tech blurb.

Wake Forest vs. Gardner-Webb - 6:30 - Uh, maybe ditto.  Wake is every ounce as bad as I thought they were.  This could be their only win all year.

Louisville vs. Murray State - 7:00 - Yes, this is Boring Week in the ACC, in case you had been wondering.

Miami vs. Florida A&M - 7:00 - I mean, only four games are on national TV, which doesn't count ESPN3 but does count ESPNews.

Duke @ Troy - 7:00 - There are some that say Duke is smart to "schedule for success."  You know how I feel about that, but here's one more point: when you're scheduling home-and-homes with Troy, it's likely you're scheduling that way because you can't do any better if you tried.

Florida State vs. The Citadel - 7:30 - Jameis Winston will play this game under the spectre of a Title IX sexual assault investigation, which I'm sure will result in a sternly worded note in his student file.

North Carolina vs. San Diego State - 8:00 - UNC will get a few suspended players back for this one, because their hazing investigation found there wasn't any room left underneath the rug.

Virginia Tech @ Ohio State - 8:00 - I love games like this, where someone has to lose.

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